Rain alleviates drought, but too late to help crops
DES MOINES — The storm system that left Colorado dealing with historic flooding dropped rain across a large swath of the nation from Wisconsin to Texas last week, helping to alleviate drought conditions in some areas of the country, including Iowa and Nebraska, authors of a weekly national drought monitor said Thursday.
The rain was too late to help most corn and soybean fields, however. Rainfall throughout the growing season has been spotty, leaving some farmers with a dismal harvest while others beginning to bring in crops are reporting surprisingly good results.
“There will be lot of variability out there field to field and even within a field,” said Mark Licht, an Iowa State University field agronomist. “The rains we got here were welcomed, but they just didn’t add much to that yield potential because the crop growth had progressed so far already.”
The yield is the amount of a crop per acre a farmer gets.
Early harvest reports from soybean farmers in central Iowa range from 35 to 60 bushels per acre, Licht said. The normal trend is around 50.
Early corn reports range from 75 to 120 bushels per acre in central Iowa, lower than the state normal trend of about 170 to 180 bushels. But some farmers on the eastern edge of the state have reported an eye-popping 260 bushels an acre.
The percentage of the nation’s corn and soybeans in drought fell 1 percentage point, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who wrote this week’s drought report.
About 54 percent of the corn crop and 44 percent of soybeans are in drought conditions characterized as moderate or worse.
Because the corn and soybean growing areas that did get timely rain will likely bring in enough to compensate for areas struggling in drought, the USDA still predicts a record corn harvest of 13.8 billion bushels and the fourth largest soybean harvest of 3.15 billion bushels.
The weekly report released Thursday said 45 percent of the United States is in moderate drought or worse, a decline from 48 percent the week before. The report said 38 percent of the nation has no drought, an improvement of about four percentage points from the week before.
The monitor tracked conditions from Sept. 17 to Tuesday.
In Iowa, 5 percent of the state is now experiencing no drought, an improvement of about 2 percentage points from the week before. Abnormally dry areas fell to 16 percent from 24 percent, and the percentage of the state in moderate drought fell 10 points to 41 percent.
The severe drought area fell 6 percentage points to 36 percent.
In Nebraska, the area of the state in extreme drought fell to 11 percent from 21 percent a week ago. It’s the smallest area in extreme drought since July 2012. Severe drought rose to 50 percent from 40 percent. Other drought categories changed slightly.
The area of the state with no drought is 1.8 percent, an improvement from 1.2 percent week before. It includes portions of three counties on the state’s western border.
The drought monitor is produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the USDA and about 350 drought observers. It rates the level of drought on a five-classification scale: abnormally dry, moderate drought, severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought.